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The Elephant Story Blog: India and Vietnam Move to the Front Row

December 02, 2021

For more than 25 years I have had business relationships in both India and Vietnam. Over that period, the economies of both countries have soared, and the diplomatic perspectives are evolving as well.  Recently, Nikkei Asia published an article entitled India and Vietnam Will Define the Future of Asia: Kurt Campbell. Kurt Campbell, shown below, is the U.S. National Security Council Indo-Pacific coordinator and spoke at the United States Institute of Peace. He indicated that India will be a fulcrum on the global stage in the 21st century. In addition, he singled out Vietnam as a key future player in Asian affairs and stressed the need to strengthen the relationships between the U.S. and Vietnam. 

Brahma Chellaney, geostrategist and author of “Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan,” has written that the growing Chinese military threat against Taiwan has helped to obscure China’s more serious military confrontation with India along an extended, mountainous frontier. A Pentagon paper indicates that the Chinese military is preparing for a two-front war scenario involving border tensions with India as well as preparing a Taiwan contingency. The enactment of China’s Land Borders Law is rewriting traditional agreed borders by China’s unilateral imposition of their borders. Border skirmishes in the northernmost Indian territory of Ladakh resulted in the first deadly Chinese-Indian military clashes since 1975 and China’s first combat deaths in many years. Chinese troops are shown below along their border with India. 

The border clashes in 2020 caused India to focus on the severity of the situation which led to a recent visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendi Modi with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House as shown below.  Campbell stated that the “new strategic paradigm” has encouraged India to “reach out and to build relationships, not just with the United States, but other countries to signal that India is not alone and is working with other countries.” 

Campbell also refers to Vietnam as a “swing state” in the Indo-Pacific. High-tech and manufacturing companies are increasingly looking there “to diversify their holdings, investment and patterns of trade.”  Clearly, these moves to Vietnam are accelerated by the deterioration of Western relations with China. In fact, I have a close friend who is a senior diplomat in the Vietnamese government. The new generation of Vietnam leaders is most impressive and will define a progressive and prosperous future for their country.  

Shown below is Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh who was the first foreign leader received by his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, who took office in October. He was accompanied by business leaders from 50 Vietnamese companies to seek cooperation in fields such as energy and infrastructure development. The energy aspect of that mantra is music to my ears as we will be in discussions with a Japanese company to join us in an energy project in Vietnam that could remove the countries dependency on highly pollutive coal.  Prime Minister Pham Minh Chin is mindful of his powerful neighbor to the north and attended a virtual ASEAN-China summit chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping on the same day. 

I feel somewhat qualified to offer an opinion on the three Asian countries at the center of this potential triangle as I also did business with a Chinese company for many years.  There is simply no comparison of the business practices in India and Vietnam relative to the crude brutality on the Chinese side of any transaction. I am on the board of an Indian company also seeking to develop energy projects in Vietnam which also gives me a good feeling about their approach and the open receptivity of the Vietnamese.

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